Start by going back.
In 1999 London Independent Photography decided to undertake a year-long photographic project in the run-up to the new millennium. The simple and much-copied idea was that each photographer took one photograph for each of the days of the year before the balloons went up and the computers went down.
From the collection that emerged (three hundred and sixty five days times eighty seven photographers) one image from each day was chosen by the group. A snapshot of a year. Representative of it? In its idiosyncratic way, ‘Yes’. But if one looks at those images now it turned out to be more than that. Individual, peculiar, specific, personal, eccentric, anomalous, characteristic — the collection encompassed all of these but more importantly it represented engagement and, most importantly, commitment.
‘Engagement’, ‘commitment’: part of the contemporary throw-away, throw-around vocabulary of the project-maker or personal trainer — a page of Proust before breakfast, one less calorie a day, climb three steps before nightfall. The photographer is no different in this regard. If one spends a year involved with a particular subject then it’s possible or likely or hoped for that one’s practice of photography is going to advance; that new techniques are set in motion, fresh appreciation of a subject emerges, confidence erupts, composition is polished, new forms are discovered and so it goes. In short, our personal universe expands and the ripples of confidence gather to a torrent and engulf soul, spirit and mind. Or something pretty close to it. All this through giving time to oneself and a place.
London Independent Photography was formed by a group of photographers who believed that everybody’s work benefits from discussion. Here is Virginia Khuri, a co-founder of LIP in 1987, describing “the conviction that photographic images can mirror the personal experience and feelings of the photographer and that making them can be a means to personal growth, that what is deeply and personally true to an individual can be explored through a photographic participation in life.” Again, Robert Adams, author of Why People Photograph: “… your own photography is never enough. Every photographer who has lasted has depended on other people’s pictures too — photographs that may be public or private, serious or funny, but that carry with them a reminder of community.”
And so it has been with the London Villages Project. Spend a year within a closely-observed community and see what you can make of it. Your neighbourhood or another; stable or vulnerable; being constructed or on the move; its people or its fabric; its ecology or its economy; settled or transient? But more than that, try and show us why you moved towards this community, tell us what makes it a community, explain to us what engages you within this community. But even more than that, notice how your relationships change. “Can I take your snap please?” can never be enough. Acknowledge; be received.
Find, become aware, learn, detect, get to know, unearth, reveal. Encounter, meet, greet, bump into, make the acquaintance of, connect with. Discrete, separate, different, distinct, individual, unmistakable, recognizable, striking. One small enclave, street, square, terrace, neck of the woods. Take a place that defines itself; a place apart; a community together; an emotional centre; home. A London Village. Find one.
“Not just point and click then?”
Throughout the history of photography many practitioners have engaged with their own communities: recording daily life; memorialising the poetic and the prosaic; summarising personal, social and economic evolution; acknowledging conflict and commemorating loss; catching joy and the indelible moment of communal jubilation.
The London Villages Project sought to do that for a city.